Sunday, November 8, 2020

Yonkers studio where Houdini filmed The Master Mystery found

We know Houdini filmed interiors for The Master Mystery at a studio in Yonkers. But exactly which studio has never been identified (to my knowledge). That's why I was so excited yesterday when I found an article in the August 13, 1918 Yonkers Statesman about Houdini breaking his wrist while filming the serial. The article provides several unknown details, including the location! It says the film was being shot at the "Unexcelled Film Company at 120 School Street, Yonkers."

Below is a 1918 advertisement for the Unexcelled Film Laboratories and Studios ("For Rent by Week, Month or Yearly Leases"). As The Master Mystery was an independent production, it makes sense they would be renting studio space.

The Unexcelled Film Laboratories and Studios started business in March 1918. Its directors where Joseph E. Cavanaugh, John B. Brown, Charlies J. Volpe, Inez M. Collins, and William E. Murphy. They purchased and renovated a building at the intersection of School Street and Herriot Street, which at one time had been Canepi’s Skating Rink. The building spanned the addresses 120, 122, 124 School Street, and included a working film lab, fire-proof vaults, and studio rental space. It was described as being a three story frame structure with a stone base.

It's not known how long The Master Mystery used the studio space. But the 15-part serial filmed intermittently from mid July to the end of November 1918, so it's conceivable they may have been there for some time. Houdini would commute between the studio and Manhattan where he was appearing at the Hippodrome.

The Unexcelled Film company caused fiction with its neighbors as fire insurance rates for the residential buildings on the block soared. And for good reason. On the night of June 27, 1919, lightening struck the building and ignited a spectacular fire. Despite a downpour of rain, by the time fire fighters arrived the building was lost. They instead concentrated on saving other buildings on the block.

The fire marked an end to the Unexcelled Film company after only a little more than a year in business. One wonders if any props from The Master Mystery had remained behind and were destroyed?

Today an empty lot marks the site of where Quentin Locke battled the Automaton 102 years ago. However, remains of the "stone base" appear to survive. (The white structure, which I do not believe was there in 1918, today carries the address 118-122 School Street.) Below you can explore the site and street via Google Maps.

Stay tuned for more details about Houdini's accident while filming The Master Mystery at the Unexcelled Film Company in Yonkers.


  1. Wow, I knew that the local Mittenthal and Standard studios in Yonkers were rented for set construction and taking of interior scenes, but was not aware of The Unexcelled Film Company. Great find!